Achieving Increased Photovoltaic Panel Energy Collection with Cell-Strings that Track the Sun

EPA Grant Number: SU835691
Title: Achieving Increased Photovoltaic Panel Energy Collection with Cell-Strings that Track the Sun
Investigators: Diong, Bill , McFall, Kevin , Tippens, Scott
Institution: Southern Polytechnic State University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2014 through August 14, 2015
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Most photovoltaic panels are mounted on the ground or roofs at a fixed angle of tilt, resulting in sub-optimal energy collection as these panels do not always face the sun directly. Various tracking system designs increase energy collection by 29% to 40%, but generally require significant investments in materials and equipment. This project’s objective is to design a fixed-tilt photovoltaic module that utilizes the innovative concept of enclosing groups of cells that will track the sun. Such a module should substantially improve upon the amount of energy collected over a similarly-sized conventional fixed-tilt solar panel, while avoiding the costly complications associated with existing tracking panels.


This project will take the following steps: (1) determine the type and size of the small motor most appropriate for rotating lightweight groups of cells, (2) design a simple sunlight-direction sensing system and a simple control circuit, and (3) decide on and implement the best approach to mechanically connect the cell-strings so as to require only a single motor. In connection with this project, seminars will be held to educate other students and faculty about the negative effects of fossil fuel power sources and the positive impacts of clean renewable power sources. The seminar venues will include SPSU Open Houses, and College and Career Days at local high schools. Finally, local media will be informed of the team’s accomplishments so as to further educate the public about sustainability in general and this initiative in particular.

Expected Results:

The primary results of this project are: (1) a thorough understanding of the fundamental issues involved in designing a fixed-tilt photovoltaic module with sun-tracking cell-strings, and (2) a proof-of-concept prototype of the proposed module for demonstration purposes. Achieving an energy increase of at least 25% compared to a similarly-sized conventional fixed-tilt solar panel will be the key quantitative evaluation for this phase of research. Secondarily, the manufacturability and serviceability of the Phase I module design will be evaluated in preparation for Phase II work, with a cost target of a less than 25% increase compared to a similarly-sized fixed-tilt panel.

Supplemental Keywords:

Renewable energy, Solar energy, Photovoltaic technology, Maximizing energy collection

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report